Government & Democracy

Introduction to Tibetan Administration in Exile

Background

In 1949 the People’s Liberation Army of China marched into Tibet’s northeastern province of Amdo and Kham, and set in motion the occupation of the whole country which culminated in the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India and the crushing of the Tibetan National Uprising in March 1959. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was followed by some 80, 000 Tibetans, who settled in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The influx of refugees continues even today. Currently, the number of refugees, including those born in exile, totals 130,000.

On April 29, 1959 His Holiness the Dalai Lama re-established the Tibetan Government in the north Indian hill town of Mussoorie.

Named the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this is the continuation of the Government of independent Tibet. In May 1960, the exile government was moved to Dharamsala.

The CTA is recognized by Tibetans, both in and outside Tibet, as their sole and legitimate government. It is also being increasingly recognized as the legitimate government and true representative of the Tibetan people by parliaments around the world.

Right from its inception, the CTA has set itself the twin task of rehabilitating Tibetan refugees and restoring the freedom of Tibet. Education has been on the top of the rehabilitation agenda.

Simultaneously, the CTA decided to experiment with modern democracy in preparation for a future, free Tibet. On September 2, 1960, the Tibetan parliament-in-exile came into being. It was then known as the Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies.

In 1990 His Holiness announced further democratization, by which the composition of the Tibetan parliament was increased to 46 members. The parliament was empowered to elect the Tibetan Kashag or the Council of Ministers, which was made answerable to it. Similarly, the Tibetan judiciary, known as the Supreme Justice Commission, was instituted. Today, the parliament has 43 members (instead of 46) as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has decided not to exercise his power to nominate three members.

The newly-empowered Tibetan parliament issued the constitution for the exile Tibetans under the title of The Charter of the Tibetans in Exile. Today, the CTA functions as a veritable government and has all the departments and attributes of a free democratic government.

It must be noted, however, that the CTA is not designed to take power when Tibet becomes free. In his manifesto for a free Tibet’s governance, entitled Guidelines for Future Tibet’s Policy and Basic Features of its Constitution, His Holiness the Dalai Lama stated that the exile government would be dissolved as soon as Tibet regained freedom, and that His Holiness would then transfer his power to a transitional government headed by an interim-president.

The Interim-President, in his turn, will be required to hold a general election within two years, and hand over the power to the popularly-elected government, the manifesto said.

CONSTITUTION

The constitution of the Tibetan exile community is known as the “Charter of the Tibetans in Exile”. The Charter is the supreme law governing the functions of the CTA. It was drafted by the Constitution Redrafting Committee and referred to the parliament for approval. The parliament, in turn, adopted the Charter on June 14, 1991.

The Charter professes to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as specified by the United Nations and to provide to all Tibetans equality before the law and enjoyment of rights and freedom without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, language and social origin. among the three organs of the government: judiciary, legislature and executive.

Before the Charter came into being, the Central Tibetan Administration functioned roughly along the lines of the draft democratic constitution for future Tibet, promulgated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on March 10, 1963.

JUDICIARY

The highest judicial authority of the Tibetan exile community is known as the “Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission”. According to the Charter, the Commission is responsible for adjudicating all civil disputes in Tibetan communities. The Commission, however, does not entertain any case if the doing of so is seen to transgress the authority of the host countries. Similarly, the Commission does not handle criminal cases as this is the preserve of the host governments.

The Supreme Justice Commission is headed by the Chief Justice Commissioner (CJC) and two Justice Commissioners, all of whom are nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and referred for the approval of the parliament. If the Assembly does not reject the nomination by two-thirds majority, His Holiness will confirm the appointment.

The Commissioners hold the office till the age of 65. However, the Assembly is empowered to impeach them by two-thirds majority if they lose its confidence before the expiry of term.

According to the draft judicial code and civil procedures, there will be three tiers of Justice Commission: the Supreme Justice Commission, Circuit Justice Commissions (equivalent to a state-level high court) and Local Justice Commissions (lowest-level court).

It is proposed that there will be 62 Local Justice Commissions: one in each of the major Tibetan settlements and scattered communities. In addition, there will be five Circuit Justice Commissions to cover the six different zones into which the Tibetan exile communities are divided.

The most important cases heard by the Supreme Justice Commission are those between the Administration and members of the public. When His Holiness first suggested the setting up of a judiciary, he specifically pointed out that it should become a forum where people could bring their grievances against the Administration.

LEGISLATURE

Ever since its inception, the nomenclature of the Tibetan legislative body has changed from the “Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies” to the “Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies” and now to the “Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile”.

Tibetan Parliament in session

Tibetan Parliament in session

The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile is the highest legislative organ of the Tibetan refugee community. It was instituted in 1960. The creation of this democratically-elected body was one of the major changes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has brought about in his efforts to introduce a democratic system of administration.

The parliament consists of 43 elected members. U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo, the three traditional provinces of Tibet, elect ten members each while the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon faith elect two members each. Three deputies are elected by Tibetans in the west: two from Europe and one from North America.

The parliament is headed by a Chair and a Vice-Chair, who are elected by the legislators amongst themselves. Any Tibetan who has reached the age of 25 years has the right to contest elections to the parliament. The elections are held every five years and any Tibetan who has reached the age of 18 years is entitled to vote.

Sessions of the parliament are held twice every year, with an interval of six months between the sessions. However, His Holiness can summon extraordinary sessions of the parliament in the case of national emergencies. When the parliament is not in session, there is a working committee of 11 members: two members from each province, one member from each religious denomination.

As elected representatives of the people, the legislators undertake periodic tours to Tibetan communities to make an assessment of their overall conditions. Returning from these trips, they bring to the notice of the Administration any specific grievances and matters needing attention.

The parliament keeps in touch with people also through Local Assemblies in Tibetan communities. Local Assemblies are scaled-down replicas of the parliament. A community having a population of not less than 160 is entitled to a Local Assembly. Members of Local Assembly keep an eye on the activities of the local settlement/welfare officers. They make laws for their respective communities according to the latter’s felt-needs. The laws passed by the Local Assembly must be implemented by the respective Settlement/ Welfare Officer.

EXECUTIVE

The Kashag (Cabinet) is the apex executive authority of the Central Tibetan Administration. It is headed by a popularly elected political leader, known as Kalon Tripa (in effect Prime Minister).

Kalon Tripa is empowered by the constitution to nominate a team of upto seven Cabinet colleagues or kalons. However, their appointment requires approval from 51% percent of the members of parliament present and voting.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Kalon Tripa(Chief of Cabinet) at a press conference

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Kalon Tripa(Chief of Cabinet) at a press conference

In the event of Kalon Tripa’s resignation or inability to continue in the office, the exile populace would have to go to the polls again to elect a new Kalon Tripa.

The present Kalon Tripa is Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, a Gandhian with a lifelong commitment to non-violence and village self-rule. The Kalon Tripa is assisted by four cabinet colleagues, namely Mr. Tempa Tsering, Mr. Thupten Lungrig, Mrs. Kesang Takla, and Venerable Tsering Phuntsok.

The Kashag is serviced by the Kashag Secretariat and Planning Council. While the Secretariat provides the Kashag with secretarial and logistic services, the Planning Council serves as a consultant in matters relating to socio-economic development of the exile community. As well as scrutinizing the project proposals, the Planning Council evaluates the performance of project activities undertaken by each of the CTA departments.

The major administrative departments under the Kashag:

Department of Religion and Culture

The Department of Religion and Culture seeks to preserve and promote Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage which is on the verge of extinction in its own homeland.

Over the past four decades the Tibetan community in exile has established over 200 monasteries and nunneries with enrollments of over 20,000 monks and nuns. The Department of Religion and Culture gives back-up services to these cultural institutes. It maintains close contact with the Buddhist centers throughout the world.

In addition to the monasteries and nunneries, there are cultural centers for the study of both spiritual and secular traditions of Tibet. While some of these centers are autonomous bodies, financed by the Government of India, others are financed and administered directly by the Department of Religion.

The best known of these cultural centers in India are the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, Tibet House in New Delhi, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath in Varanasi, and the Norbulingkha Institute for Tibetan Culture at Sidhpur, near Dharamsala.

Department of Home

The Department of Home is responsible for all rehabilitation efforts for Tibetan exiles. Employment generation and promotion of self-reliance among the Tibetan populace has been the chief task of the Department since it came into being.

The Department of Home looks after the welfare of 21 agricultural settlements, 11 cluster units, eight agro-industries and four carpet-weaving cooperatives in India. In addition, the department looks after 20 Tibetan settlements and handicraft societies in Nepal and Bhutan.

Local representatives of the department in the Tibetan communities are known as Settlement Officers or Welfare Officers, depending on the organizational structures of the communities. These officers may either be elected by the local people or appointed from CTA, depending on the popular wish of the local people.

Thus far, most communities have decided in favor of appointees from the CTA. However, the CTA is making concerted efforts to encourage people to elect their own administrative heads as this is seen to be an essential milestone toward village self-rule and political maturity.

Department of Finance

The Department of Finance formulates the annual budget of the CTA and submits budget proposal to the Tibetan parliament. The department also monitors the CTA’s spending and generates revenue for running the Administration. The mainstay of its revenue is the annual voluntary contribution from the exile Tibetan populace.

The annual voluntary contribution is more widely and loosely known as the Green Book contribution, after the cover color of the booklet issued to each Tibetan exile to record the contributions made by him/her.

The Green Book proposal came first in the form of a resolution passed at the general body meeting of a grassroots level exile organization, known as the Tibetan Freedom Movement, in July 1972. Western educated activists and members of the movement proposed that if the CTA was to truly become a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is necessary for people contribute the running expenses of this institution.

Later, in March 1992, the Tibetan parliament passed a legislation stipulating that the payment of this contribution is one of the main responsibilities of Tibetan nationals in exile.

Any Tibetan wishing to apply for the service of the exile government—such as admission to school, scholarship for higher studies, job with the exile government—needs to produce the Green Book. Similarly, Tibetans wishing to exercise franchise or stand election for Tibetan public office must produce the Green Book.

Department of Education

The Department of Education administers 84 schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan, serving 30,000 children, which form 70 percent of the children in exile. A further 15 or 20 percent goes to private schools.

Out of the 84 schools administered by the Department of Education, 30 are directly run and funded by the Central Tibetan Schools Administration (CTSA) of the Government of India.

The Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala and Tibetan Homes Foundation in Mussoorie are autonomous bodies under the Department of Education. While the Tibetan Children’s Village administers 15 schools and cares for a total of 15,000 students, the Tibetan Homes Foundation runs two schools with 1,500 students.

The exile Tibetan education policy is aimed at imbuing children with a sense of responsibility for the happiness of others. Towards this end, it has developed a system to impart an education which judiciously blends modern skills and knowledge with the “others-before-self” motivation of traditional spiritual value systems.

Department of Security

The primary responsibility of the Department of Security is to ensure the security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Department has a Branch Security Office which arranges public audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and helps Tibetan refugees in seeking renewal of their refugee registration certificates from the Government of India. The Department also runs a research unit to monitor developments in Tibet and China.

In addition, the Department of Security runs three Reception Centres to look after the growing number of new refugees arriving from Tibet. The refugees usually arrive first in Nepal, from where they make their way to Dharamsala and other Tibetan communities via Delhi. There are branch reception centres in Kathmandu and Delhi where new refugees are given food and lodging, and guided to their onward destinations. The Reception Centre also helps the new refugees to find jobs, join schools and monasteries.

Department of Information and International Relations

The Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) educates the Tibetans and international public opinion to the political, human rights and environmental conditions in Tibet. Towards this end, it publishes both print and electronic materials on Tibet. The periodicals come out in three languages: Tibetan, English and Chinese.

The DIIR serves as a protocol office of the CTA and liaises with the international media and Tibet Support Groups throughout the world.

Under the DIIR are CTA’s foreign missions in 12 countries. They function as the embassies of the CTA and are based in New Delhi, Geneva, New York, Tokyo, London, Kathmandu, Moscow, Paris, Canberra, Pretoria, Taipei and Brussels.

Department of Health

The Department of Health runs 61 Primary Health Care centres and six referral hospitals in almost all the Tibetan communities in India and Nepal. The Department meets the cost of emergency health care needs of new refugees and other needy Tibetans.

The Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute in Dharamsala is an autonomous body under the auspices of the Department of Health. The Tibetan Medical Institute has 36 branch clinics in various parts of India and Nepal to provide traditional Tibetan medical care to Tibetans and the local populations.

INSTITUIONAL BODIES

Election Commission

The power and functions of the Election Commission are to conduct and oversee elections of the Tibetan Assembly, Local People’s Assemblies, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Assembly, and the members and Chair of the Kashag.

If the CTA decides to call a referendum to get people’s verdict on a matter of extreme importance, it will fall upon the Election Commission to conduct the referendum. Although the settlement and welfare officers of most Tibetan communities are appointed by the CTA, people have the right to elect them if they so wish. In such a case, the Election Commission will conduct the election of settlement/welfare officers as well.

In order to ensure the independence of the Election Commission, the Charter provides for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Two additional Commissioners are appointed by His Holiness during the general election of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies. The Chief Election Commissioner holds the office for a term of five years unless the Assembly impeaches him or her by two-thirds majority.

Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission is responsible for recruitment, training, appointment and promotion of the civil servants of the CTA. The Chair of the Commission is appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a term of five years.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) came into existence on February 11, 1992 with the promulgation of the Charter of Tibetans in Exile, which named it as a constitutional body.

Before that, CTA civil servants were recruited by the erstwhile Department of Personnel, which had been set up in 1973.

Auditor General

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) was established in 1962 to audit and look after the financial management of various governmental and non-governmental welfare organizations under Central Tibetan Administration, (CTA) Dharamsala. As the activities of the CTA increased, the importance of the OAG also grew at the same time.

In view of the importance of the functions and the responsibilities of the OAG, Article 106 of the Charter of Tibetans-in-Exile provided an Autonomous Status to this office. Accordingly, H.H. the Dalai Lama directly appoints the Auditor General and the first AG assumed his responsibilities on 23rd Sept., 1991.

The OAG is responsible for auditing the accounts of all the CTA departments and its subsidiaries. It also audits the accounts of most of the public institutions like cooperatives, trading concerns, educational institutes, hospitals, health centres, and so on. The Commission also evaluates the efficiency, propriety and management performance.

In short, the OAG functions as a watchdog on the CTA. Though the OAG has to audit and look after the financial management of all the CTA Offices and its branches, the shortage of staff impedes the office to complete the audit of entire branches. Out of 383 such organizations, this office could handle only 181 organizations.

At least the 50% of the total number of the staff must be either commerce graduates or those with at least eight years of experience in book keeping.